Air Force Rolls Out an F-117 Nighthawk Attack Plane For Training Mission

On Tuesday, September 21, the Air Force brought a distinctive aircraft back to the skies over California. It released a video of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack plane landing at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California.
F-117 Nighthawk 13 photos
Photo: USAF
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The Nighthawk was retired in 2008, and the arrowhead-shaped plane made its bones, eliminating thousands of enemy targets during Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

Liveried in jet black and wrapped in sheets of radar-absorbing material, the F-117 was famous for taking out targets before they know what hit them, so it’s a bit strange to see one in flight over a civilian highway - and in broad daylight. So what was this aircraft, out of service for the last 13 years, doing coming in hot over Fresno?

The Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing says the Nighthawk was simply returning from a training mission with a group of F-15 pilots, and that two Nighthawks had recently participated in air combat training missions the previous week.

An Air Force spokesperson for the 144th Fighter Wing said that “training against integrated forces that include the F-117 will challenge and sharpen pilots, as well as build confidence in tactics and systems needed to defend our nation.”

The footage includes an exceedingly rare public look at the Nighthawk, and this one has been flying “red air” missions for two years as it stands in as a “bad guys” to face off against active pilots in training missions.

And the Air Force says there’s a very good reason the retired stealth attack plane was used to train pilots in air-to-air combat. Many U.S. fighters now feature electronically scanned array radars and improved Sniper targeting pods which allow them to take on and track similar warplanes now used by Russia and China. The tiny radar profile of the Nighthawk makes for an ideal simulation to ape radar and infrared signatures, which current American pilots are unlikely to have seen or flown against.

According to Air Force officials, there are 48 Nighthawks in the arsenal, but that it’s moving four aircraft each year into museum collections via the USAF Strategic Basing program and the National Museum of the USAF.

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